A STUDY IN HEREDITY AND CONTRADICTIONS
By SLASON THOMPSON
With Portraits, Views and Fac-Simile Illustrations
Published, December, 1901 Charles Scribner's Sons New York
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
Not as other memoirs are written would Eugene Field, were he alive, have this study of his life. He would think more of making it reflect the odd personality of the man than rehearse the birth, development, daily life, and works of the author. If he had undertaken to write his own life, as was once his intention, it would probably have been the most remarkable work of fiction by an American author that ever masqueraded in the quaker garments of fact. From title-page to colophon—on which he would have insisted—the book would have been one studied effort to quiz and queer (a favorite word of his) the innocent and willing-to-be-deluded reader. "Tell your sister for me," I recall his saying, "what a kind, good, and deserving man I am. How I love little children and [with a dry chuckle] elderly spinsters. Relate how I was born of rich yet honest parents, was reared in the 'nurture and admonition of the Lord,' and, according to the bent of a froward youth, have stumbled along to become the cynosure of a ribald age."
Field's idea of a perfect memoir was that it should contain no facts that might interfere with its being novel and interesting reading both to the public and its subject. He set little store by genius, as he tells us in one of his letters, and less by "that nonsense called useful knowledge." His peculiar notions as to the field of biography were once illustrated in one he furnished to a New York firm, which proposed a series of biographies of well-known newspaper writers. It was arranged that Field and William E. Curtis, the noted Washington correspondent, should write each the other's biography for the series. Mr. Curtis executed his sketch of Field in good faith; Field's sketch of Mr. Curtis was a marvel of waggish invention. Through an actor of the same name who some years before made quite a reputation as Samuel of Posen, he traced Mr. Curtis's birth back to Bohemia, and carried him at an early age to Jerusalem, where Curtis was said to have laid the foundations of his fame and fortune peddling suspenders. Later he sold newspapers on the streets, and, by practicing the shrewd and self-denying habits of his race, quickly became the owner of the paper for which he worked, which was called the New Jerusalem Messenger, the recognized organ of the New Jerusalem Church.
Mr. Curtis's progressive tendencies, according to Field, quickly involved him in trouble with the government; his paper was suppressed, and he was banished from Jerusalem. When the special firmin of the Sultan expelling Mr. Curtis from Turkish dominions was published, it caused a great sensation in Chicago, where the Church of the New Jerusalem was very strong, and created an immediate rivalry between William Penn Nixon, editor of the Inter Ocean, and Melville E. Stone, editor of the Morning News, to secure his services. Mr. Nixon sent him a cablegram in Hebrew which was written by a Hebrew gentleman to whom Nixon sold old clothes, while Mr. Stone's cablegram was prepared by his father, the Rev. Mr. Stone, and was expressed in scriptural phraseology which was not understood in Jerusalem as well as it was at Galesburg, where Mr. Stone was then professor of the Hebrew language and literature. Curtis accepted the offer couched in the language of the Hebrew vender of old clothes and became a member of the editorial staff of the Inter Ocean. His first effective work on that newspaper was to convert Jonathan Young Scammon, then its owner, to the New Jerusalem faith (Mr. Scammon, whose real name was John, was the most prominent Swedenborgian in Chicago). Mr. Scammon was so grateful for his conversion from infidelity that in a moment of religious exaltation he raised Mr. Curtis's salary from $18 to $20.
And thus the biography of Mr. Curtis proceeded along lines that gave the truth a wide berth, for Field held, with the old English jurists, that the greater the truth the greater the libel.
At one time in our association Field, as seriously as he could, entertained the thought of furnishing me with materials for an extended sketch of his life, and I still have several envelopes on which the inscription "For My Memoirs" bears witness to that purpose. But after serving as a source of eccentric and roguish humor for several months, the idea was suffered to lapse, only to be revived in suggestive references as he consigned some bit of manuscript to my care or criticism. Any study of Field's life and character based on such materials as he thus furnished would have been absolutely misleading. It would have eliminated fact entirely and substituted the most fantastic fiction in its stead. It would have built up a grotesque caricature of a staid, church-going, circumspect citizen and author instead of the ever-fascinating bundle of contradictions and irresponsibility Field was to his legion of associates and friends.
There were two Fields—the author and the man—and it is the purpose of this study to reproduce the latter as he appeared to those who knew and loved him for what he was personally for the benefit of those who have only known him through the medium of his writings. In doing this it is far from my intention and farther from my friendship to disturb any of the preconceptions that have been formed from the perusal of his works. These are the creations of something entirely apart from the man whose genius produced them. His fame as an author rests on his printed books, and will endure as surely as the basis of his art was true, his methods severely simple, and his spirit gentle and pure. In his daily work the dominant note was that of fun and conviviality. It was free from the acrimony of controversy. He abominated speech-makers and lampooned political oracles. He was the unsparing satirist of contemporary pretense, which in itself was sufficient to account for the failure of the passing generation of literary critics to accord to him the recognition which he finally won in their despite from the reading public. Neither a sinner nor a saint was the man who went into an old book-store in Chicago and bewildered the matter-of-fact dealer in old editions with the inquiry, "Have you an unexpurgated copy of Hannah More's 'Letters to a Village Maiden'?"
Everything Field wrote in prose or verse reflects his contempt for earth's mighty and his sympathy for earth's million mites. His art, like that of his favorite author and prototype, Father Prout, was "to magnify what is little and fling a dash of the sublime into a two-penny post communication." Sense of earthly grandeur he had little or none. Sense of the minor sympathies of life—those minor sympathies that are common to all and finally swell into the major song of life—of this sense he was compact. It was the meat and marrow of his life and mind, of his song and story. With unerring instinct Field, in his study of humanity, went to the one school where the emotions, wishes, and passions of mankind are to be seen unobscured by the veil of consciousness. He was forever scanning whatever lies hidden within the folds of the heart of childhood. He knew children through and through because he studied them from themselves and not from books. He associated with them on terms of the most intimate comradeship and wormed his way into their confidence with assiduous sympathy. Thus he became possessed of the inmost secrets of their childish joys and griefs and so became a literary philosopher of childhood.
"In wit a man, in simplicity a child," nothing gloomy, narrow, or pharisaical entered into the composition of Eugene Field. Like Jack Montesquieu Bellew, the editor of the Cork Chronicle, "his finances, alas! were always miserably low." This followed from his learning how to spend money freely before he was forced to earn it laboriously. He scattered his patrimony gaily and then when the last inherited cent was gone, turned with, equal gayety to earning, not only enough to support himself, but the wife and family that, with the royal and reckless prodigality of genius, he provided himself with at the very outset of his career.
If he set "no store by genius," he at least had that faith in his own ability which "compels the elements and wrings a human music from the indifferent air." From the time he applied himself to the ill-requited work of journalism he never wavered or turned aside in his purpose to make it the ladder to literary recognition. He was over thirty before he realized that in three universities he had slighted the opportunity to acquire a thorough equipment for literary work. But he was undismayed, for did he not read in his beloved "Reliques of Father Prout" how "Loyola, the founder of the most learned and by far the most distinguished literary corporation that ever arose in the world, was an old soldier who took up his 'Latin Grammar' when past the age of thirty"?
It is the contrast and apparent contradiction between the individual and the author that makes the character of Eugene Field interesting to the student. If the man were simply any prosaic person possessed of the gift of telling tales, writing stories, and singing lullabies, this study of his life would have been left unwritten. Many authors have I known who put all there was of them into their work, who were personally a disappointment to the intellect and a trial to the flesh. With Eugene Field the man was always a bundle of delightful surprises, an ever unconventional personality of which only the merest suggestion is given in his works.
In the study I have made of the life of Eugene Field in the following pages I have received assistance from many sources, but none has been of so great value as that from his father's friend, Melvin L. Gray, in whose home Field found the counsel of a father and the loving sympathy of a mother. The letters Mr. Gray placed at my disposal, whether quoted herein or not, have been invaluable in filling in the portrait of his beloved ward.
To Edward D. Cowen, whose intimate friendship with Field covered a period of nearly fifteen years in three cities and under varying circumstances, these pages owe very much. From his brother, Roswell Field, I have had the best sort of sympathetic aid and counsel in filling out biographical detail without in any way committing himself to the views or statements of this study.
Dr. Frank W. Reilly, to whom Field not only owed his vitalized familiarity with Horace, "Prout," and "Kit North," but that superficial knowledge of medical terms of which he made such constant and effective use throughout his writings, has also placed me under many obligations for data and advice.
To these and the others whose names are freely sprinkled through this study I wish to make fitting acknowledgment of my many obligations, and I trust the reader will share my grateful sentiments wherever the faithful quotation marks remind him that such is their due.
CHICAGO, September 30th, 1901.
I. PEDIGREE 1 II. HIS FATHER'S FIRST LOVE-AFFAIR 13 III. THE DRED SCOTT CASE 36 IV. BIRTH AND EARLY YOUTH 49 V. EDUCATION 73 VI. CHOICE OF A PROFESSION 91 VII. MARRIAGE AND EARLY DOMESTIC LIFE 103 VIII. EARLY EXPERIENCES IN JOURNALISM 126 IX. IN DENVER, 1881-1883 143 X. ANECDOTES OF LIFE IN DENVER 158 XI. COMING TO CHICAGO 183 XII. PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS 206 XIII. RELATIONS WITH STAGE FOLK 224 XIV. BEGINNING OF HIS LITERARY EDUCATION 271 XV. METHOD OF WORK 294 XVI. NATURE OF HIS DAILY WORK 314
PORTRAIT OF EUGENE FIELD IN 1885 Frontispiece Photogravure.
DRAWINGS AND FAC-SIMILES PAGE
"THE PEAR" IN FIELD'S GREEK TEXT 140
DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL COUNCIL OF WAR 213 From a drawing by Eugene Field.
COMMODORE CRANE 236 From a drawing by Eugene Field.
FIELD WITNESSING MODJESKA AS CAMILLE 244 From a drawing by Eugene Field.
TWO PROFILES OF EUGENE FIELD 247 The upper one drawn in pencil by Field himself; the lower one drawn by Modjeska. Reproduced from a flyleaf of Mrs. Thompson's volume of autograph verse.
A BAR OF MUSIC 295 Written by Eugene Field.
TWO GOOD KNIGHTS AT FEAST 297 From a drawing by Eugene Field.
HALF-TONE PLATES FACING PAGE
GENERAL MARTIN FIELD 6 Eugene Field's Grandfather.
ESTHER S. FIELD 10 Eugene Field's Grandmother.
ROSWELL MARTIN FIELD 18 Eugene Field's Father.
CHARLES KELLOGG FIELD 46
EUGENE FIELD'S MOTHER 50 From a Daguerreotype taken a year or two before his birth.
EUGENE FIELD'S COUSINS, MARY FIELD FRENCH AND HER YOUNGER HALF-SISTER, AUGUSTA JONES 54 From a Daguerreotype taken before Eugene and Roswell became members of Miss French's family in Amherst, on the death of their mother.
THE FIELD HOMESTEAD AT NEWFANE, VT. 56
THE HOMESTEAD AT AMHERST, MASS. 60 Now owned by Mr. Hiram Eaton, of New York.
A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF MONSON, MASS. 74
THE REV. JAMES TUFTS 78
WILLIAMS COLLEGE BUILDINGS, WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. 82
THE OLD KNOX COLLEGE BUILDINGS, GALESBURG, ILL. 86
STATE UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS AT COLUMBIA, MO. 88
EARLY PORTRAITS OF EUGENE FIELD 92
MELVIN L. GRAY 96
MRS. MELVIN L. GRAY 100
MRS. EUGENE FIELD 110
ROBSON AND CRANE IN "SHARPS AND FLATS" 204
FIELD AT WORK 218 The caricature from a drawing by Sclanders.
FRANCIS WILSON 228
WILLIAM J. FLORENCE 234
JESSIE BARTLETT DAVIS 256
SOL SMITH RUSSELL 266
DR. FRANK W. REILLY 280
"FATHER PROUT" 288 Francis Mahony.
"Sir John Maundeville, Kt.," was his prototype, and Father Prout was his patron saint. The one introduced him to the study of British balladry, the other led him to the classic groves of Horace.
"I am a Yankee by pedigree and education," wrote Eugene Field to Alice Morse Earle, the author of "The Sabbath in Puritan New England," and other books of the same flavor, "but I was born in that ineffably uninteresting city, St. Louis."
How so devoted a child of all that is queer and contradictory in New England character came to be born in "Poor old Mizzoorah," as he so often wrote it, is in itself a rare romance, which I propose to tell as the key to the life and works of Eugene Field. Part of it is told in the reports of the Supreme Court of Vermont, part in the most remarkable special pleas ever permitted in a chancery suit in America, and the best part still lingers in the memory of the good people of Newfane and Brattleboro, Vt., where "them Field boys" are still referred to as unaccountable creatures, full of odd conceits, "an' dredful sot when once they took a notion."
"Them Field boys" were not Eugene and his brother Roswell Martin Field, the joint authors of translations from Horace, known as "Echoes from the Sabine Farm," but their father, Roswell Martin, and their uncle, Charles Kellogg, Field of Newfane aforesaid.
These two Fields were the sons of General Martin Field, who was born in Leverett, Mass., February 12th, 1773, and of his wife, Esther Smith Kellogg, who was the grandmother celebrated in more than one of Eugene Field's stories and poems. Through both sides of the houses of Field and Kellogg the pedigree of Eugene can be traced back to the first settlers of New England. But there is no need to go back of the second generation to find and identify the seed whence sprang the strangely interesting subject of this study.
At the opening of the nineteenth century, as now, Newfane, then Fayetteville, was a typical county seat. This pretty New England village, which celebrated the centennial of its organization as a town in 1874, is situated on the West River, some twelve miles from Brattleboro, at which point that noisy stream joins the more sedate Connecticut River. It nestles under the hills upon which, at a distance of two miles, was the site of the original town of Newfane—not a vestige of which remains to remind the traveller that up to 1825 the shire town of Windham County overlooked as grand a panorama as ever opened up before the eye of man. The reason for abandoning the exposed location on the hills for the sheltered nook by the river may be inferred from the descriptive adjectives. The present town of Newfane clusters about a village square, that would have delighted the heart of Oliver Goldsmith. The county highway bisects it. The Windham County Hotel, with the windows of its northern end grated to prevent the escape of inmates—signifying that its keeper is half boniface and half county jailer—bounds it on the east, the Court House and Town Hall, separate buildings, flank it on the west. The Newfane Hotel rambles along half of its northern side, and the Field mansion, with its front garden stretching to the road, does the same for the southern half. In the rear, and facing the opening between the Court House and the Town Hall, stands the Congregational Church, where Eugene Field crunched caraway-seed biscuits when on a visit to his grandmother, and back of this stands another church, spotless in the white paint of Puritan New England meeting-houses, but deserted by its congregation of Baptists, which had dwindled to the vanishing point. In the centre of the village green is a grove of noble elms under whose grateful shade, on the day of my visit to Newfane, I saw a quartette of gray-headed attorneys, playing quoits with horse-shoes. They had come up from Brattleboro to try a case, which had suffered the usual "law's delay" of a continuance, and were whiling away the hours in the bucolic sport of their ancestors, while the idle villagers enjoyed their unpractised awkwardness. They all boasted how they could ring the peg when they were boys.
Hither General Martin Field brought the young, and, as surviving portraits testify, beautiful Mistress Kellogg to be his wife. Here to them were born "them Field boys," Charles K. (April 24th, 1803) and Roswell M. (February 22d, 1807), destined to be thorns in their father's flesh throughout their school-days, his opponents in every justice's court where they could volunteer to match their wits against his, and, in the person of Roswell Martin, to be the distraction and despair of the courts of Windsor County and Vermont, until a decision of the Supreme Court so outraged that son's sense of the sacredness of the marriage vow, that he shook the granite dust of Vermont from his feet, and turned his face to the west, where he became the original counsel in the Dred Scott case, married and had sons of his own.
But before taking up the thread of Roswell Martin Field's strange and unique story, let me give a letter written by his father to his sister, Miss Mary Field, then at the school of Miss Emma Willard in Troy, N.Y., as exhibit number one, that Eugene Field came by his peculiarities, literary and otherwise, by direct lineal descent. Roswell was a phenomenal scholar, as his own eldest son was not. At the age of eleven he was ready for college, and entered Middlebury with his brother Charles, his senior by four years. How they conducted themselves there may be judged from this letter to their sister:
Newfane, March 31st, 1822.
I sit down to write you my last letter while you remain at Troy. Yours by Mr. Read was received, in which I find you allude to the "severe and satyrical language" of mine in a former letter. That letter was written upon the conduct of my children, which is an important subject to me. If children are disobedient, a parent has a right to be severe with them. If I recollect right I expressed to you that your two oldest brothers' conduct was very reprehensible, and I there predicted their ruin. But I then little thought that I should soon witness the sad consequences of their ill-conduct. I received a letter from President Bates about two weeks since and another from Charles the same day, that Charles had been turned away and forever dismissed from the college for his misconduct; Roswell must suffer a public admonition and perhaps more punishment for his evil deeds. Charles was turned out of college the 7th of March, and I wrote on the week after to have him come directly home, but we have heard nothing from him since. Where he is we can form no conjecture. But probably he is five hundred miles distant without money and without friends. I leave you to conjecture the rest. Roswell is left alone at the age of fifteen to get along, if he is permitted to stay through college.
These, Mary, are the consequences of dissipation and bad conduct. And seeing as I do the temper and disposition of my children, that they "are inclined to evil and that continually," can you wonder that I write with severity to them? Our hopes are blasted as relates to Charles and Roswell, and you cannot conceive the trouble which they have given us. Your mother is almost crazy about them; nor are we without fears as to you. I say now, as I said in my former letter, that I wish my children were all at home at work. I am convinced that an education will only prove injurious to them. If I had as many sons as had the patriarch Jacob not one should ever again go nigh a college. It is not a good calculation to educate children for destruction. The boys' conduct has already brought a disgrace upon our family which we can never outgrow. They undoubtedly possess respectable talents and genius, but what are talents worth when wholly employed in mischief?
I have expended almost two thousand dollars in educating the boys, and now just at the close they are sent off in disgrace and infamy. The money is nothing in comparison to the disgrace and ruin that must succeed. Mary, think of these things often, and especially when you feel inclined to be gay and airy. Let your brother's fate be a striking lesson to you. For you may well suppose that you possess something of the same disposition that he does, but I hope that you will exercise more prudence than he has. You must now return home with a fixed resolution to become a steady, sober, and industrious girl. Give up literary pursuits and quietly and patiently follow that calling which I am convinced is most proper for my children.
It does appear to me that if children would consider how much anxiety their parents have for them they would conduct themselves properly, if it was only to gratify their parents. But it is not so. Many of them seem determined not only to wound the feelings of the parents in the most cruel manner but also to ruin themselves.
Remember us respectfully to Dr. and Mrs. Willard, and I am your affectionate father
That Mary did return home to be the mediator between her incensed and stern father and his wayward and mischievous, but not incorrigible sons, is part of the sequel to this letter. What her daughter, Mary Field French, afterwards became to the sons of the younger of the reprehensible pair of youthful collegians will appear later on in this narrative. It is beautifully acknowledged in the dedication of Eugene Field's "Little Book of Western Verse," which I had the honor of publishing for the subscribers in 1889, more than three score years after the date of the foregoing letter. In that dedication, with the characteristic license of a true artist, Field credited the choice of Miss French for the care of his youthful years to his mother:
A dying mother gave to you Her child a many years ago; How in your gracious love he grew, You know dear, patient heart, you know.
* * * * *
To you I dedicate this book, And, as you read it line by line. Upon its faults as kindly look As you have always looked on mine.
In truth, however, it was the living bereaved father who turned in the bewilderment of his grief to the "dear patient heart" of his sister, to find a second mother for his two motherless boys. To Martin Field, Mary was a guardian daughter, to Charles K. and Roswell M. 1st, she was a loyal and mediating sister, and to Eugene and Roswell M. 2d, she was a loving aunt, as her daughter Mary was an indulgent mother and unfailing friend. The last name survived "the love and gratitude" of Eugene's dedication ten years.
As may have been surmised the parental forebodings of the grieved and satirical General Field were not realized in the eternal perdition of his two sons. Education did not prove their destruction. With more than respectable talents Charles was reinstated at Middlebury, and four months later graduated with high honors, while Roswell took his degree when only fifteen years old, the plague and admiration of his preceptors, and, we may well suppose, the pride and joy of the agonized parents, who welcomed the graduates to Newfane with all the profusion of a prodigal father and the love of a distracted but doting mother. They never had any reason to doubt the nature of sister Mary's reception.
Charles and Roswell studied law with their father in the quaint little office detached from the Field homestead at Newfane. The word edifice might fittingly be applied to this building which, though only one room square and one story high, has a front on the public square, with miniature Greek columns to distinguish it from the ordinary outbuildings that are such characteristic appendages of New England houses. The troubles of General Field with his two sons were not to end when he got them away from the temptations of college life, for they were prone to mischief, "and that continually," even under his severe and watchful eye. This took one particular form which is the talk of Windham County even yet. By reason of their presence in General Field's office they were early apprised of actions at law which he was retained to institute; whereupon they sought out the defendant and offered their services to represent him gratis. Thus the elder counsellor frequently found himself pitted in the justice's courts against his keen-witted and graceless sons, who availed themselves of every obsolete technicality, quirk, and precedent of the law to obstruct justice and worry their dignified parent, whom they addressed as "our learned but erring brother in the law." Not infrequently these youthful practitioners triumphed in these legal tilts, to the mortification of their father, who, in his indignation, could not conceal his admiration for the ingenuity of their misdirected professional zeal.
Two years after his graduation, and when only seventeen years of age, Eugene Field's father was sufficiently learned in the law to be admitted to the bar of Vermont. They wasted no time in those good old days. Before he was thirty, Roswell M. Field had represented his native town in the General Assembly, had been elected several times State's Attorney, and in every way seemed destined to play a notable part in the affairs of Vermont, if not on a broader field. He was not only a lawyer of full and exact learning, an ingenious pleader, and a powerful advocate, but an exceptionally accomplished scholar. His knowledge of Greek, Latin, French, and German rendered their literature a perennial source upon which to draw for the illumination and embellishment of the pure and virile English of which he was master. It was from him that Eugene inherited his delight in queer and rare objects of vertu and that "rich, strong, musical and sympathetic voice" which would have been invaluable on the stage, and of which he made such captivating use among his friends. Would that he had also inherited that "strong and athletic" frame which, according to his aged preceptor, enabled Roswell M. Field to graduate at the age of fifteen. It is not, however, for his learning and accomplishments of mind and person that we are interested in Roswell Martin Field, but for the strange incident in his life that uprooted him from the congenial environments of New England and the career opening so temptingly before him, to transplant him to Missouri, there to become the father of a youth, who, by all laws of heredity and by the peculiar tang of his genius, should have been born and nurtured amid the stern scenes and fixed customs of Puritan New England. That story must be told in another chapter.
HIS FATHER'S FIRST LOVE-AFFAIR
Many a time and oft in our walks and talks has Eugene Field told me the story I am about to relate, but never with the particularity of detail and the authority of absolute data with which I have "comprehended it," as he would say, in the following pages. It was his wish that it should be told, and I follow his injunction the more readily, as in its relation I am able to demonstrate how clearly the son inherited his peculiar literary mode from the father.
It may be said further that, had the remarkable situation which grew out of Roswell M. Field's first marriage occurred one hundred years earlier, or had it occurred in our own day in a state like Kentucky, it would have provoked a feud that could only have been settled by blood, while it might readily have imbrued whole counties. Even in Vermont it stirred up animosities which occupied the attention of the courts for years, and which the lapse of nearly two generations has not wholly eradicated from the memory of old inhabitants. In the opening remarks of the opinion of the Supreme Court, in one of several cases growing out of it, I find the following statement: "It would be inexpedient to recapitulate the testimony in a transaction which was calculated to call up exasperated feelings, which has apparently taxed ingenuity and genius to criminate and recriminate, where a deep sense of injury is evidently felt and expressed by the parties to the controversy, and where this state of feeling has extended, as it was to be expected, to all the immediate friends of the parties, who from their situation were necessarily compelled to become witnesses and to testify in the case."
In the relation of this story I shall substitute Christian names for the surnames of the parties outside of the Field family, although all have become public property and the principals are dead. The scene is laid in the adjoining counties of Windham and Windsor in the Green Mountain State, and this is how it happened:
There lived at Windsor, in the county of the same name, a widow named Susanna, and she was well-to-do according to the modest standard of the times. She was blest with a goodly family of sons and daughters, among whom was Mary Almira, a maiden fair to look upon and impressionable withal. Now it befell that Mary Almira, while still very young, was sent to school at the Academy in Leicester, Mass., where she met, and, in the language of the law, formed "a natural and virtuous attachment" with a student named Jeremiah, sent thither by his guardian from Oxbridge in the state last before mentioned. They met, vowed eternal devotion and parted, as many school-children have done before and will do again.
After her return to Windsor, Jeremiah seemingly faded from the thoughts of Mary Almira, so that when she subsequently accompanied her mother on a visit to Montreal, she felt free to experience "a sincere and lively affection" for a Canadian youth named Elder. So lively was this affection that when Jeremiah next saw Mary Almira it had completely effaced him from her memory. Nothing daunted, however, being then of the mature age of eighteen years and eight months, and two years Mary's senior, he resumed the siege of her heart, and in short order their engagement was duly "promulgated and even notorious."
Before Mary succumbed to the second suit of Jeremiah, she waited for a pledge of affection from young Mister Elder in the shape of an album in which he was to have forwarded a communication, and it was "in the bitterness of her disappointment at not receiving a letter, message, or remembrance from Mister Elder that she formed the engagement with Jeremiah, in order that she might gratify her resentment by sending the news of the same to Mister Elder." This she did with a peremptory request for the return of her album without the leaves on which he had written. What was her chagrin and unavailing remorse on receiving the album to find that every leaf was cut out but one, a mute witness to her "infidelity to her early lover." Small wonder that "her tenderness revived," and "she cursed the hour in which she had formed the precipitate engagement with Jeremiah, and oftentimes she shed over that album tears of heartfelt sorrow and regret." At least so we are told in the pleadings, from which authentic source I draw my quotations.
Now Mary was nothing if not precipitate, for all this came to pass in the spring or summer of 1831, when she was not quite sweet seventeen. It also happened without the knowledge or concern of Roswell Martin Field, who was a young and handsome bachelor of quick wit and engaging manners, living at Fayetteville in the neighboring county, "knowing nothing at that time of the said Mary Almira, her lovers, suitors, promises, engagements, intimacies, visits or movements whatsoever." He was soon to know.
In the summer of 1832 it happened that Mary Almira was on a visit to Mrs. Jonathan, her cousin german, the wife of Justice Jonathan of Brattleboro, Vt. And now fate began to take a swift and inexplicable interest in the affairs of Mary and Roswell. On August 30th, 1832, in company with Mrs. Jonathan and Mrs. French (the Mary Field of the first chapter of this book), Miss Mary Almira visited Fayetteville, and, we are told, "when the chaise containing the said ladies arrived Roswell advanced to hand them out, and then for the first time saw and was introduced to said Mary Almira, who received him with a nod and a broad good-humored laugh." She remained over night, the guest of Mrs. French, and Roswell saw her only for a few moments in his sister's sitting-room. What occurred is naively told under oath in the following extract from the pleadings:
"Some conversation of a general nature passed between them, and as the said Mary Almira was a young lady of very pleasing face and form and agreeable manners, it is by no means improbable that he (Roswell) manifested to said Mary Almira that in those matters he was not wholly devoid of sensibility and discernment." The next morning Mary returned to Brattleboro with Mrs. Jonathan, and Roswell "did not then expect ever to see her more."
But it was otherwise decreed, for after the lapse of eleven days Justice Jonathan had professional business in Fayetteville, and, lo! Mary Almira attended him. It was Tuesday, September 11th, when for a second time she dawned on the discerning view of Roswell. For eight days she lingered as a guest of Mrs. French, whose brother began to show signs of awakening sensibility, although at this time informed of the unbroken pact between Mary Almira and Jeremiah. How young love took its natural course is told in the pleadings by Roswell with protests "against the manifest breach of delicacy and decorum of calling him into this Honorable Court to render an account of his attentions to a lady," and "more especially when that lady is his lawful wedded wife."
When Mary had been in Fayetteville four days it happened that Justice Jonathan was called to Westminster. When asked if she was inclined to accompany him, Mary turned to Roswell and "inquired with a smile if it was not likely to rain?" and Roswell confesses "that he told her that it would be very imprudent for her to set out."
Still protesting against the manifest indelicacy of the revelation, Roswell has told for us the story of his first advances upon the citadel of Mary's affections in words as cunningly chosen as were ever the best passages in the writings of his son Eugene. It was on the evening of September 13th that these advances first passed the outworks of formal civility. "When bidding the said Mary Almira good-night in the sitting-room of Mrs. French, as he was about to retire into his lodgings, Roswell plucked a leaf from the rosebush in the room, kissed it, and presented it to her; on the next day when he saw the said Mary Almira she took from her bosom a paper, unfolded it, and showed Roswell a leaf (the same, he supposes, that was presented the evening before), neatly stitched on the paper, and which she again carefully folded and replaced in her bosom."
Another evening they played at chess, and with her permission Roswell named the queen Miss Almira, and he bent all his energies to the capture of that particular piece. He sacrificed every point of the game to that object, and when it was triumphantly achieved, "took note of the pleasure and delight manifested by said Mary Almira at the ardor with which he pursued his object and kissed his prize." On still another occasion "Jeremiah was introduced into the game as a black bishop, but very soon was exchanged for a pawn."
On the day when Roswell advised Mary that it would be imprudent for her to accompany Justice Jonathan to Westminster, she was "graciously pleased to make, with her own fair hand, a pocket pin-cushion of blue silk and to put the same into Roswell's hands, at the same time remarking that blue was the emblem of love and constancy," and Roswell "confesses that he received the same with a profound bow."
They were now in the rapids, with Jeremiah forgotten on the bank.
Roswell complimented "the beauty of said Almira's hair, whereupon she graciously consented to present him with a lock of the same, and he humbly confesses that he accepted, kissed, and pressed it to his heart."
Next morning, as they stood side by side, with Roswell holding her hand "and carelessly turning over the leaves of a Bible," his eye accidentally rested on this passage of the book of Jeremiah: "As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you." And "thereupon he pointed out such text to said Mary Almira, and she responded to the same with a blush and a smile." Roswell further confessed, "that with the kind permission of said Mary Almira he did at various times press the hand of said Mary Almira, and with her like gracious permission did kiss her hand, her cheek, and her lips." Who, with such kind and gracious permission, would have confined himself to remarks about the weather?
Such were the only "artifices and persuasions, ways and means" by which Roswell came between Mary Almira and the promise she had made to the absent Jeremiah—the same ways and means that have been employed from the days of Adam, and which will be successful while woman is fair and man is bold. It was Roswell's belief that "his attentions and addresses were from the first agreeable to Mary's feelings and welcome to her heart," and he swore "that they were always permitted and received with great kindness and sweetness of manner."
When Mary left Fayetteville, on Wednesday, September 19th, it was "appointed" that he should call on her at Brattleboro on the following Wednesday, and like a true knight he kept his tryst. That his reception was not frigid may be inferred from the record of the calls that followed in rapid succession, to-wit: Thursday afternoon; Monday, October 2d, evening; Tuesday afternoon and evening; Wednesday afternoon and evening; Wednesday (October 9th) afternoon and evening; Friday evening; Saturday evening, and Sunday forenoon and evening.
No wonder the report of the bombardment reached the ears of widow Susanna at Windsor, fifty miles away, and Justice and Mrs. Jonathan "expostulated with Mary Almira upon the impropriety, as they called it, of her receiving the attentions of Roswell without informing her mother."
Space forbids the recital of the uninterrupted, undisturbed, and agreeable conversations between the young twain that are to be found in the pleadings in this case. They were brought to a sharp conclusion by the receipt of a letter from Susanna ordering her daughter to return to Windsor forthwith. Justice Jonathan remarked that Mrs. Susanna was "undoubtedly right, for this young lady ought not to be receiving the gallantries from one young gentleman when she was under engagement to another."
The mother's letter was received Saturday evening, October 12th, and produced consternation in the breasts of the young lovers, Mary clinging around Roswell's neck "with all the ardor of youthful, passionate love." They resolved to wed without the knowledge, consent, or blessing of Mrs. Susanna or Jeremiah, and on the morning of October 15th, 1832, Roswell went to the house of Justice Jonathan by appointment "to be joined in marriage unto said Mary Almira according to law." Justice and Mrs. Jonathan expostulated against such a marriage without Mrs. Susanna being first consulted, and after a long conference Justice Jonathan flatly declined to tie the civil knot. It was finally decided that the marriage should take place at Putney, a small town of Windham County, some twelve miles on the Post-road to Windsor. Justice Jonathan proceeded with the young lady in his carriage, and in due course arrived at Putney. There he was surprised to find the ardent and impatient Roswell, who, although behind at the start, had passed him on the way, and had already made the necessary preparations with Justice of the Peace Asa to perform the statutory ceremony. This followed "in a solemn, serious, and impressive manner in the front room of the public house, the said Jonathan alone being present besides the parties and the magistrate."
The relations of Roswell and Mary Almira as man and wife began and ended before Justice Asa in that public house in Putney. In the language of the pleadings: "Immediately, within a few minutes after said marriage ceremony, said Mary Almira went with Justice Jonathan toward Windsor, and Roswell in a short time returned to his residence at Fayetteville."
There were deeper consequences involved in that simple parting than could have been imagined by any of the parties or than are concealed in the musty and voluminous court records of Windsor County and the state of Vermont.
Eugene Field had an entirely different conception of the nature of this marriage from that revealed by the record. According to his version, there was an old blue law in Vermont which rendered it necessary, in order to exonerate the groom in a runaway match from any other motive than love and affection, that the bride should be divested of all her earthly goods. So when Mary Almira arrived at Putney he thought that she retired to a closet, removed her clothing, and, thrusting her arm through a hole in the door, was joined in holy wedlock to Roswell, who, with the Justice and the witnesses, remained in the outer room.
Eugene Field undoubtedly derived this version of his father's marriage from the tradition of one that actually took place in the Field mansion on Newfane Hill in 1789. That was the marriage of Major Moses Joy of Putney to Mrs. Hannah Wood of Newfane, and the unique nature of the proceedings followed legal advice in order to avoid any responsibility for the debts of Mrs. Ward's former husband, who had died insolvent. The story which I find in the Centennial history of Newfane is as follows:
"Mrs. Ward placed herself in a closet with a tire-woman, who stripped her of all clothing, and while in a perfectly nude state she thrust her fair round arm through a diamond hole in the door of the closet, and the gallant Major clasped the hand of the nude and buxom widow, and was married in due form by the jolliest parson in Vermont. At the close of the ceremony the tire-woman dressed the bride in a complete wardrobe which the Major had provided and caused to be deposited in the closet at the commencement of the ceremony. She came out elegantly dressed in silk, satin, and lace, and there was kissing all around."
To resume our story. On leaving Putney, accompanied by Justice Jonathan, Mary Almira returned to her mother's residence at Windsor. Nothing was communicated to Mrs. Susanna or to the relatives of the young bride in regard to the ceremony at Putney. But they, being aware of the engagement to Jeremiah, and having heard rumors of the attentions of Roswell, thought propriety demanded an early fulfilment of the prior engagement. On the day of her arrival home, and on October 21st and 31st, Mary wrote to Roswell letters, from which we have the assurance of the Supreme Court of Vermont: "It would appear that she entertained a strong affection for him and probably viewed him as the husband with whom she should thereafter live, although the last letter does not breathe the same affection as the former ones."
But the plot was thickening. On the day after her return home Mary also wrote to Jeremiah in Boston, and a fortnight had not elapsed before she wrote again, "a very pressing letter, urging him to come immediately to Windsor." Roswell learned from Mary's letters that her friends were opposed to her forming any connection, except with Jeremiah, and he made the mistake of replying by letter instead of appearing in person, urging his claims and carrying off his bride.
Some time before the 1st of November the family of Mary had heard of the ceremony at Putney, for on Jeremiah's arrival, in lover-like compliance with her urgent message, he was informed of the situation. After a hurried council of war, and under legal advice, the following letter was drafted and forwarded to Roswell by the hands of Judge Bikens, the family lawyer:
To Mr. Roswell Field:
Sir: Moments of deep consideration and much reflection have at length caused me to see in its proper light the whole of my late visit to Brattleboro. That I have been led by you and others to a course of conduct which my own feelings, reason, and sense entirely disapprove, is now very clear to me. I therefore write this to inform you that I am not willing on any account to see you again. Neither will I by any course you can adopt be prevailed upon to view the matter in a different light from what I now do. I leave you the alternative of forever preventing the public avowal of a disgraceful transaction, of which you yourself said you were ashamed.
This veiled repudiation of the marriage at Putney was placed in Roswell's hands by Judge Bikens and was instantly "pronounced an impudent forgery." Being in the dark as to how far Mary's family had been informed of their marriage, Roswell avoided any expression that might reveal it to Judge Bikens, and refused to accept the letter as a true expression of his wife's feelings and wishes. He at once wrote to her, urging that their marriage should be made public and that thus an end should be put to the suit of Jeremiah. To this Mary made reply that the above letter "contained her real sentiments." Before this note reached Fayetteville Roswell had started for Windsor. On the way he halted his horse at Putney, where he learned that Mary's family was fully informed of the marriage as performed by Justice Asa.
A very embarrassing interview followed between Roswell and the family of his recalcitrant bride. On entering the room he advanced to Mary, and, extending his hand, "asked her how she did." But she looked at her mother and rejected his hand. A similar advance to Mrs. Susanna met with a like rebuff. Being considerately left alone in the room with Mary Almira by her mother and brother, who, with a sister, stood at the door listening, Roswell had what he was not disposed to regard as a private audience with his legal wife. In answer to his natural inquiry as to what it all meant, Mary said that since she had come home and thought it all over she found that she did love Jeremiah; that Jeremiah had been very kind to her, and she thought she ought to marry Jeremiah.
Roswell inquired how she could do that, as she was already married.
"Why," said the fickle Mary, "you can give up the certificate; let it all go and nobody will know anything about it." After some natural remonstrances, Mary continued: "Come, now, you've got the certificate in your pocket, and you can give it up just as well as not and let me marry Jeremiah," at the same time holding out her hand as if for the document.
The startling effrontery of the proposal provoked Roswell, and he told her that so far as a separation from himself was concerned she should be gratified to her heart's content, and that while she remained as she was he would not divulge the marriage, but he warned her that if she should attempt marriage with another he would publish the marriage at Putney in every parish church and newspaper in New England.
At this point the private interview was interrupted by the hasty entrance of Mistress Susanna, who advanced in great agitation, as the pleadings inform us, and said to Roswell:
"Mister Field, why can't you give up that stiffiket" (meaning, as he supposed, certificate) "and let things be as if they had never been?"
Thereupon "Mister Field" proceeded to point out to the entire family of Mary Almira, which had assembled from the doors and keyholes where they had been eavesdropping, "the wickedness and folly of Mistress Susanna's request." One of Mary's brothers admitted that Roswell's refusal "to connive to the dishonor of his wife" was correct and honorable, and that he should not be asked to make any such arrangement.
Roswell was greatly shocked and disgusted at the appearance, language, and manner of Mary Almira, and he was borne out in his impression of her character by the admission of one brother that she was "a giddy, inconsistent, unprincipled girl," and by that of another that "she was a volatile coquette, who did not know her own mind from day to day."
Roswell remained in Windsor three days, but did not again see Mary Almira; whereupon, feeling that nothing was to be gained by exposing "himself to renewed insults, he returned home for a few days."
It appears that all this time Jeremiah was lurking in the vicinity, holding secret interviews with Mary and her family, and "devising ways and means" for the bigamous marriage which, according to the belief of Roswell, was performed between Jeremiah and Mary Almira somewhere in New Hampshire between the 14th and 27th of November. Roswell M. Field never recognized the legality of any such ceremony or that Mary and Jeremiah had the lawful right to intermarry while the marriage at Putney remained in full force and effect. He had reason to be thankful for his escape from a union for life with a woman of such frivolous nature and easy indifference to the most sacred obligations of human and divine law. But he would not permit himself to become a silent copartner in what, to his strict notion of the inviolability of the marriage contract, was one of the most heinous crimes against society and morals. He, therefore, took every means in his power to bring obloquy and punishment upon the guilty parties. He instituted various proceedings at law to test the validity of the marriage at Putney. He, among other measures, filed a petition in the Probate Court to secure an accounting from Mistress Susanna as guardian of the estate of his wife Mary Almira. But Susanna avoided the issue by a technical plea.
He brought an action of ejectment in the name of himself and Mary Almira to recover possession of a tenement in Windsor of which she was the owner, and secured judgment without any defence being offered.
He secured the indictment of one of her brothers in the United States District Court for having opened one of his letters to his wife.
He presented a statement of the facts of the abduction and bigamous marriage of Mary Almira to the Grand Jury of Windsor County, and procured an indictment against her two brothers and Mary Almira and Jeremiah "for conspiracy to carry her without the state of Vermont" to become the bigamous wife of Jeremiah.
He followed Jeremiah and Mary to Boston in July, 1833, and laid the matter before the Grand Jury there, but before any action could be taken Jeremiah and Mary Almira "withdrew from the city of Boston, left New England, took passage at the city of New York in an outward bound vessel, and retired to the other side of the Atlantic."
Out of one of the actions instituted in the name of Roswell Field and Mary Almira, his wife, grew a libel suit, brought by Mistress Susanna against him, in which the special pleas drawn and filed by Roswell Field were pronounced by Justice Story "to be masterpieces of special pleading." Through all these proceedings Mr. Field disclaimed all intention or wish "to visit legal pains and penalties" upon his wife, whom he regarded "as the victim and scapegoat of a wicked conspiracy."
Finally, and after the birth of a child, Jeremiah and Mary Almira were forced to bring a suit for the nullification of the Putney marriage. Field met the complaint with a plea that set out all the facts. He contended that, as the Putney marriage was between persons of legal discretion and consent, there could be no condition that would render it voidable at the election of either. Every law and precedent was in favor of the inviolability of the Putney marriage, and yet so powerful were the family influences and so distressing would have been the results of a finding in his favor, that the lower court preferred to disregard precedents and law rather than illegitimatize the innocent children of Jeremiah and Mary. The same view was taken by the higher court, which absolved Mary of "being fully acquainted with the legal consequences of a solemnization of marriage." The court itself was forced to regard the ceremony as "a promise or engagement to marry," rather than a completed and sacred contract. The opinion as rendered is one long apology for declaring the Putney marriage invalid, in order to save Mary Almira from the crime of bigamy and her children from being the offspring of an illicit union.
The conclusion of the opinion reflects the spirit in which it was rendered. "It may be proper to add," said the court, "that we are not disposed to animadvert on the conduct of the parties or of their respective friends and connections, nor to pronounce any opinion further than is required to show the grounds of our determination. The immediate parties may find some excuse or palliation in the thoughtlessness of youth, the strength of affection, the pangs of disappointment and blighted hopes, in versatility of feeling to which all are subject, and in constitutional temperament. The conduct of the friends of either is not to be judged of nor censured in consequence of the unfortunate results which have attended this truly unfortunate case. In judging of the past transactions of others, which have terminated either favorably or unfavorably, we are apt to say that a different course was required and would have produced a different effect. But who can say what would have been the inevitable consequences of a different line of conduct by the friends of either party? The infatuation and the determination of the parties to pursue that course which was most agreeable to their own feelings and views, placed their friends and acquaintances in a very unpleasant situation, and it would be wrong for us now to say that they were not actuated by good motives, and did not pursue that line of conduct which they thought at the time duty dictated. We inquire not as to the conduct of others, we censure them not, nor do we say anything as to the parties before us, except what has been thought necessary in deciding the case."
The decree of nullification was affirmed in July, 1839, and before the close of the year Roswell M. Field had shaken the dust of Vermont from his feet and taken up his residence in St. Louis. Thus Vermont lost the most brilliant young advocate of his day, and Missouri gained the lawyer who was to adorn its bar and institute the proceedings for the manumission of Dred Scott, the slave, whose case defined the issues of our Civil War.
THE DRED SCOTT CASE
Vermont's loss was Missouri's gain. The young lawyer, who had been admitted to the bar of his native state at the age of eighteen, was fully equipped to match his learning, wit, and persuasive manners against such men as Benton, Gamble, and Bates, who were the leaders of the Missouri bar when, in 1839, Roswell Field took up his residence in St. Louis. Now it was that his familiarity and facility with French, German, and Spanish stood him in good stead and, combined with his solid legal attainments, speedily won for him the rank of the ablest lawyer in his adopted state.
But Roswell Field brought from Vermont something more than an exceptional legal equipment and the familiarity with the languages that is necessary to a mastery of the intricate old Spanish and French claims which were plastered over Missouri in those early days. He had inherited through his mother, from her grim old Puritan ancestors, the positive opinions and unquenchable sense of duty that constitute the far-famed New England conscience. He was born with a repugnance to slavery, whether of the will or of the body, and grew to manhood in the days when the question of the extension of negro slavery to the states and territories was the subject of fierce debate throughout the union. He had fixed convictions on the subject when he left Newfane, and he carried them with him to the farther bank of the Mississippi.
It is to the uncompromising New England conscience of Roswell Field that his countrymen owe the institution of the proceedings that finally developed into the Dred Scott case, in which the question of the legal status of a negro was passed upon by the Supreme Court of the United States. This is very properly regarded as the most celebrated of the many important cases adjudicated by our highest tribunal, for not only did it settle the status of Dred Scott temporarily, but the decision handed down by Chief Justice Taney is the great classic of a great bench. It denied the legal existence of the African race as persons in American society and in constitutional law, and also denied the supremacy of Congress over the territories and the constitutionality of the "Missouri Compromise." Four years of civil war were necessary to overrule this sweeping opinion of Chief Justice Taney's, which is still referred to with awe and veneration by a large minority, if not by a majority, of the legal profession.
To Roswell Field belongs the honor of instituting the original action for Dred Scott, without fee or expectation of compensation. The details of this celebrated case, after it got into the United States courts, are a part of the history of our country. What I am about to relate is scarcely known outside of the old Court House and Hall of Records in St. Louis.
Dred Scott was a negro slave of Dr. Emerson, a surgeon in the United States Army, then stationed in Missouri. Dr. Emerson took Scott with him when, in 1834, he moved to Illinois, a free state, and subsequently to Fort Snelling, Wis. This territory, being north of 36 degrees and 30 minutes, was free soil under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. At Fort Snelling, Scott married a colored woman who had also been taken as a slave from Missouri. When Dr. Emerson returned to Missouri he brought Dred Scott, his wife, and child with him. The case came to the attention of Roswell Field, and at once enlisted all his human sympathy and great legal ability. His first petition to the Circuit Court for the County of St. Louis is too important and unique a human document not to be preserved in full. It reads:
Your petitioner, a man of color, respectfully represents that sometime in the year 1835 your petitioner was purchased as a slave by one John Emerson, since deceased, who afterwards, to wit, about the year 1836 or 1839, conveyed your petitioner from the State of Missouri to Fort Snelling, a fort then occupied by the troops of the United States, and under the jurisdiction of the United States, situated in the territory ceded by France to the United States under the name of Louisiana, lying North of 36 degrees and 30 minutes North latitude, not included within the limits of the State of Missouri; and resided and continued to reside at said Fort Snelling for upwards of one year, and holding your petitioner in slavery at said Fort during all that time; in violation of the act of Congress of March 6th, 1820, entitled "An act to authorize the people of Missouri Territory to form a constitution and State government and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states and to prohibit slavery in certain territories."
Your petitioner avers that said Emerson has since departed this life, leaving a widow, Irene Emerson, and an infant child whose name is unknown to your petitioner, and that one Alexander Sandford has administered upon the estate of said Emerson and that your petitioner is now unlawfully held by said Sandford as said Administrator and said Irene Emerson who claims your petitioner as part of the estate of said Emerson and by one said Samuel Russell.
Your petitioner therefore prays your Honorable Court to grant him leave to sue as a free person in order to establish his right to freedom and that the necessary orders may be made in the premises.
(Signed) DRED SCOTT.
his DRED X SCOTT mark
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 1st day July, 1847, PETER W. JOHNSTONE, J.P.
Upon reading the above petition this day, it being the opinion of the Judge of the Circuit Court that the said petition contains sufficient matter to authorize the commencement of a suit for his freedom, it is hereby ordered that the said petitioner, Dred Scott, be allowed to sue, on giving security satisfactory to the Clerk of the Circuit Court for all costs that may be adjudged against him, and that he have reasonable liberty to attend his counsel and the Court as occasion may require, and that he be not subjected to any severity on account of this application for his freedom and that he be not removed out of the jurisdiction of the Court.
A. HAMILTON, Judge of the St. Louis Circuit Court, 8th Judicial Circuit, Mo. July 2d, 1847.
Having obtained the desired leave to sue from Judge Alexander Hamilton, Roswell Field procured Joseph Charless, one of the leading citizens of St. Louis, to execute the necessary bond for costs. Then he lost no time in filing the following complaint, which I have no doubt Eugene Field would have mortgaged many weeks' salary to number among his most precious possessions. He would have cherished it above the Gladstone axe, for, while that felled mighty oaks, this brief document laid the axe at the root of a deadly upas-tree which threatened the destruction of a free republic. I offer no apology for its insertion here:
STATE OF MISSOURI, ) COUNTY OF ST. LOUIS) ss.
CIRCUIT COURT OF ST. LOUIS, ST. LOUIS COUNTY. November Term, 1847.
Dred Scott, a man of color, by his attorneys, plaintiff in this suit, complains of Alexander Sandford as administrator of the estate of John Emerson deceased, Irene Emerson and Samuel Russell, defendants of a plea of trespass. For that the said defendants heretofore, to wit on the 1st day of July in the year 1846 at to wit the County of St. Louis aforesaid with force and arms assaulted the said plaintiff and then and there, beat, bruised, and ill-treated him and then and there imprisoned and kept and detained him in prison there without any reasonable or probable cause whatsoever, for a long time, to wit for the space of one year, then next following, contrary to law and against the will of the said plaintiff; and the said plaintiff avers that before and at the time of the committing of the grievances aforesaid, he the said plaintiff was then and there and still is a free person, and that the said defendants held and still hold him in slavery, and other wrongs to the said plaintiff then and there did against the peace of the State of Missouri to the damage of the said plaintiff in the sum of ($300) Three Hundred Dollars, and therefore he sues.
FIELD & HALL, Attys. for Plff.
With this brief and bald complaint for trespass to the person and false imprisonment was begun a long and stubbornly fought litigation, extending over ten years, and which was destined to end in Chief Justice Taney declaring:
They [negroes] had for more than a century before [the Declaration of Independence] been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.
From the beginning of his connection with this case Roswell Field contended for the broad principle enunciated by Lord Mansfield that "Slavery is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law." He consented to a discontinuance of the original action because of the variance of the complaint from the subsequently discovered facts. In the second suit Dred Scott and his family were declared free by the local court, but the judgment was reversed on appeal to the Supreme Court of the state. Judge Gamble, in dissenting from the opinion of the majority of the Court, held that "In Missouri it has been recognized from the beginning of the Government as a correct position in law that a master who takes his slave to reside in a state or territory where slavery is prohibited thereby emancipates his slave."
The subsequent sale of Dred Scott to a citizen of New York named Sandford afforded Roswell Field the opportunity to renew the fight for Scott's freedom in the United States Circuit Court at St. Louis. The case was tried in May, 1854, and it was again declared that Scott and his family "were negro slaves, the lawful property of Sandford." Roswell Field immediately appealed by writ of error to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the appeal was first argued early in 1856, and a second time in December of the same year. Mr. Field's connection with the case ended when he prepared the papers on appeal and sent his brief to Montgomery Blair, with whom was associated for Scott on the second hearing George Ticknor Curtis. Both of these eminent lawyers emulated the example of Eugene Field's father, who for nearly nine years had devoted a large share of his time and energy to the fight of a penniless negro slave for liberty.
Looking back now it is almost impossible to realize how the issue in this case stirred the nation to its depth. It was first argued while the country was in the throes of the fierce Fremont-Buchanan campaign, and it was believed that the second hearing was ordered by a pro-slavery court after Buchanan's election, to permit more time in which to formulate the extraordinary decision at which the majority of the court arrived. The decision was political rather than judicial, and challenged the attention of the people beyond any act of the Supreme Court before or since.
The Civil War was virtually an appeal from the judgment of Chief Justice Taney and his associates to the God of Battles.
It must not be thought that a single case, although the most celebrated in the annals of American jurisprudence, was Roswell Field's sole claim to the title of leader of the Missouri bar during his lifetime. The records of the Superior Court of that state bear interesting and convincing testimony to the exceptional brilliancy of Eugene Field's father, while the tributes to his memory, by his brothers at the bar and the judges before whom he appeared, prove that in all the relations of life he fulfilled the promise of ability and genius given in his graduation from college at an age when most boys are entering a preparatory school.
Before dismissing Roswell Field to take up the story of his son's career, I wish to quote a few passages from a brief memoir which is preserved in the history of Newfane, as throwing direct hereditary light on the peculiar character, fascinating personality, and entertaining genius of his son.
As I may hereafter have occasion to refer to Eugene Field's political convictions, let us begin these quotations with one as to his father's politics:
"In the dark days of the Rebellion, during the years 1861 and 1862, when the friends of the Union in St. Louis and Missouri felt that they were in imminent danger of being drawn from their homes and of having their estates confiscated by rebels and traitors, General Lyon, General Blair, and R.M. Field were among the calm, loyal, and patriotic men who influenced public action and saved the city and state."
Those of my readers who knew the son will recognize much that captivated them in this description of the father:
"In his social relations he was a genial and entertaining companion, unsurpassed in conversational powers, delighting in witty and sarcastic observations and epigrammatic sentences. He was elegant in his manners and bland and refined in his deportment. He was a skilful musician and passionately fond of children, and it was his wont in early life to gather them in groups about him and beguile them by the hour with the music of the flute or violin. He was actually devoid of all ambition for power and place, and uniformly declined all offers of advancement to the highest judicial honors of the state."
From the lips of Samuel Knox, of the St. Louis bar, we have this testimony as to the remarkable extent and versatility of Roswell M. Field's talents:
"Uniting great industry and acquirements with the most brilliant wit and genius, well and accurately informed on all subjects, both in science and art; endowed with a memory that retained whatever it received, with quick and clear perceptions, the choicest, most felicitous, and forcible language in which to clothe his thoughts, no one could doubt his meaning or withhold the tribute of wonder at his power."
To clinch the evidence as to the source from which Eugene Field derived pretty nearly everything that won for him such meed of fame as fell to his lot, let me quote from an interview with Melvin L. Gray, his guardian and foster-father, printed in the Helena Independent, September 6th, 1895, shortly before his idol's death:
"If I had never believed in the influence of heredity before, I would now, after having known Eugene Field and his father before him. The father was a lawyer of wonderful ability, but he was particularly distinguished by his keen wit, his intense appreciation of the humorous side of life, and his fondness for rare first editions of literary works. He was a profound student, and found much time to cultivate the fairer qualities that some lawyers neglect in the busy round of their profession. Eugene is not a lawyer, but he has his father's tastes, his father's keen wit, and much of the same fineness of character and literary ability."
"Another point of similarity is found in Eugene's neglect of financial matters. In his youth the father was equally negligent, although he did subsequently grow more thrifty, and when he died left the boys a little patrimony. As executor I apportioned the money as directed. Both the boys spent it freely while it lasted."
I find no trace in the father of what, all through life, was the pre-eminent characteristic of Eugene, the inveterate painstaking, mirth-compelling practical-joker. But in Brattleboro, Newfane, and throughout Vermont everybody says, "That's jest like his uncle Charles Kellogg. There was never such another for jest foolin'. He'd rather play a hoax on the parson that would embarrass him in the face of his congregation than eat." When they were boys, it was Charles that led Roswell into all kinds of mischief. "Uncle Charles Kellogg"—they always give him the benefit of the second name in Brattleboro—had a reputation for wit and never-ending badinage throughout the neighborhood that still survives and leaves no room to question whence Eugene inherited his unquenchable passion "for jest foolin'."
BIRTH AND EARLY YOUTH
For nine years after moving to St. Louis his profession was the sole mistress of Roswell Field's "laborious days" and bachelor nights. Almost coincident with his becoming interested in the case of the slave, Dred Scott, he met, and more to the purpose of this narrative, became interested in Miss Frances Reed, then of St. Louis, but whose parents hailed from Windham County, Vermont. Whether their common nativity, or the fact that her father was a professional musician, first brought them together, the memory of St. Louis does not disclose. Miss Reed was a young woman of unusual personal charm. All accounts agree that she was quiet and refined in her ways and yet possessed that firmness of mind that is the salt of a quiet nature. They were married in May, 1848, and in the love and domestic happiness of his mature manhood, Roswell Field found the sweet balm for the bitterness that followed from his youthful romance and the nullification of the Putney marriage.
Of this union six children were born in the eight years of Mrs. Field's wedded life, only two of whom, Eugene, the second, and Roswell, survived babyhood. There is some uncertainty as to the exact date and location of Eugene's birth. When his father was married he took his bride home to a house on Collins Street, which, under Time's transmuting and ironical fingers, has since become a noisy boiler-shop. There their first child was born. Subsequently they moved to the house, No. 634 South Fifth Street (now Broadway), which is one in the middle of a block of houses pointed out in St. Louis as the birthplace of Eugene Field. Although Eugene himself went with the photographer and pointed out the house, his brother Roswell strenuously maintains that Eugene was born before the family moved to the Walsh row, so-called, and that to the boiler-shop belongs the honor of having heard the first lullabies that greeted the ears of their greatest master.
Roswell's view receives negative corroboration from the testimony of Mrs. Temperance Moon, of Farmington, Utah, who for a time lived in their father's family. Under date of February 25th, 1901, Mrs. Moon wrote to me:
"I can give you very little information in regard to Mr. Field's place of birth. It was on Third Street. I do not remember the names of the cross streets, I think Cherry was one. Eugene was four months old when I went to live with them. I stayed until the family went east for the summer. Mrs. Field's sister was living with them. Her name was Miss Arabella Reed. When they came back Roswell was a few months old. They went to live on Fifth Street in a three-story house. Mrs. Field sent word for me to come and take care of Eugene. I was twelve years old. She gave me full charge of him. I was very proud of the charge. He was a noble child. I loved him as a dear brother. He took great delight in hearing me read any kind of children's stories and fairy tales. His mother was a lovely woman. I have a book and a picture Eugene sent to me. The picture is of him and his mother when he was only six months old."
Equal and illusive doubt hangs over the date of Eugene Field's birth. Was it September 2d or 3d, 1850? In his "Auto-Analysis," of which we shall hear more further along, Field himself gives preference to the latter figure. But as his preference more than half the time went by the rule of contraries, that would be prima-facie evidence that he was born on the earlier date. There again the testimony of the younger brother is to the effect that in their youth the anniversary of Eugene's birth was held to be September 2d. Their father said he could not reconcile his mind to the thought that one of his children was born on so memorable an anniversary as September 3d, the day of Cromwell's death. I have little doubt that Field himself fostered the irrepressible conflict of dates, on the theory that two birthdays a year afforded a double opportunity to playfully remind his friends of the pleasing duty of an interchange of tokens on such anniversaries. If they forgot September 2d, he could jog their memories that Cromwell's death on September 3d, two centuries before, was no excuse for ignoring his birth on September 3d, 1850.
Whether born on the anniversary of Cromwell's death or in the boiler-shop, no stories of the youthful precocity of Eugene Field survive to entertain us or to suggest that he gave early indication of the possession either of unusual talent or of that unique personality that were to distinguish him from the thousands born every day.
But Eugene and Roswell, Jr., were not long to know the watchful tenderness and ambitious solicitude of that "mother love" of which the elder has so sweetly sung. In November, 1856, when Eugene was six years old, their mother died and their father's thoughts instinctively turned to his sister, hoping to find with her, amid scenes familiar to his own youth, a home and affectionate care for his motherless boys. How the early loss of his mother affected the life of Eugene Field it is impossible to tell. Not until the boy of six whom she left had become a man of forty did he attempt to pay a tribute of filial love to her memory. The following lines, under the simple title, "To My Mother," first appeared in his "Sharps and Flats" column, October 25th, 1890. It was reprinted in his "Second Book of Verse." The opening lines summon up a tender picture of a "grace that is dead":
How fair you are, my mother! Ah, though 'tis many a year Since you were here, Still do I see your beauteous face And with the glow Of your dark eyes cometh a grace Of long ago.
The Mistress French of our earlier acquaintance, who was a widow when we last knew her in Newfane, had married again and, as Mistress Thomas Jones, had moved with her daughter, Mary Field French, to Amherst, Mass. To the home of Mrs. Jones and the loving care of Miss French, Eugene and Roswell, Jr., were entrusted. Miss French was at this time a young woman, a spinster—Eugene delighted to call her—of about thirty years. His old Munson tutor thus describes her:
"Mary Field French, a daughter of Mrs. Jones by her first husband, was a lady of strong mind, and much culture, with a sound judgment and decision of character and very gracious manners. She was always sociable and agreeable and so admirably adapted to the charge of the two brothers." They retained through manhood the warmest affection for this cousin-mother, and never wearied in showing toward her the grateful devotion of loyal sons.
"Here," continues Dr. Tufts, "in this charming home, under the best of New England influences and religious instruction, with nothing harsh or repulsive, the boys could not have found a more congenial home. Indeed, few mothers are able or even capable of doing so much for their own children as Miss French did for these two brothers, watching over them incessantly, yet not spoiling them by weak indulgence or repelling them by harsh discipline."
Here it was that Eugene was brought up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord," as he would often declare with a mock severity of tone, that left a mixed impression as to the beneficence of the nurture and the abiding quality of the admonition. Here he spent his school days, not in acquiring a broad or deep basis for future scholarship, but in studying the ways and whims of womankind, in practising the subtile arts whereby the boy of from six to fifteen attains a tyrannous mastery over the hearts of a feminine household, and in securing the leadership among the daring spirits of his own age and sex, for whom he was early able to furnish a continuous programme of entertainment, adventure, and mischief.
Of this period of Eugene Field's life we get the truest glimpse through the eyes of his brother, who has written appreciatively of their boyhood spent in Amherst. "His boyhood," writes Roswell, "was similar to that of other boys brought up with the best surroundings in a Massachusetts village, where the college atmosphere prevailed. He had his boyish pleasures and his trials, his share of that queer mixture of nineteenth century worldliness and almost austere Puritanism, which is yet characteristic of many New England families."
If the reader wishes to know more of the New England atmosphere, in which Eugene Field was permitted to have pretty much his own sweet way by his cousin and aunt, let him have recourse to Mrs. Earle's "The Sabbath in Puritan New England," which I find in my library commended to my perusal, "with Eugene Field's love, December 25th, 1891"—and to other books by the same author. In a letter to Mrs. Earle, from which I quoted in the opening paragraph of this narrative, I find the following reference to the period of his life which we are now considering:
"Fourteen years of my life were spent in Newfane, Vt., and Amherst, Mass. My lovely old grandmother was one of the very elect. How many times have I carried her footstove for her and filled it in the vestry-room. I have frozen in the old pew while grandma kept nice and warm and nibbled lozenges and cassia cakes during meeting. I remember the old sounding-board. There was no melodeon in that meeting-house; and the leader of the choir pitched the tune with a tuning-fork. As a boy I used to play hi-spy in the horse-shed. But I am not so very old—no, a man is still a boy at forty, isn't he?"
Eugene Field would have been a boy at fifty and at eighty had he lived, and he was very much of a boy at the period of which he wrote to Mrs. Earle. I have no doubt that he was a very circumspect lad while under the loving yet stern glance of that dear old grandmother, in whose kindly yet dignified presence three generations of Fields moved with varying emotions of love and circumspection. "Her husband" (General Martin Field of our acquaintance), wrote "Uncle Charles Kellogg," "was genial and social, full of humor and mirth, oftentimes filling the house with his jocund laugh." She, however, "true to her refined womanly instinct, her sense of propriety, rarely disturbed by his merry and harmless jests, with great discretion pursued 'the even tenor of her way.' Patiently and with unfaltering devotion to the higher and nobler purposes of life, she always maintained her self-possession, strenuously avoided all levity and frivolity, rarely relaxed the gravity of her deportment, and never failed in the end of controlling both husband and household."
Eugene's own picture of his grandmother is contained in the following passage in an article contributed by him to the Ladies' Home Journal:
"Grandma was a pillar in the Congregational Church. At the decline and disintegration of the Universalist society, she rejoiced cordially as if a temple of Baal or an idol of Ashtaroth had been overturned. Yes, grandma was Puritanical—not to the extent of persecution, but a Puritan in the severity of her faith and in the exacting nicety of her interpretation of her duties to God and mankind. Grandma's Sunday began at six o'clock Saturday evening; by that hour her house was swept and garnished, and her lamps trimmed, every preparation made for a quiet, reverential observance of the Sabbath Day. There was no cooking on Sunday. At noon Mrs. Deacon Ranney and other old ladies used to come from church with grandma to eat luncheon and discuss the sermon and suggest deeds of piety for the ensuing week. I remember Mrs. Deacon Ranney and her frigid companions very distinctly. They never smiled and they wore austere bombazines that rustled and squeaked dolorously. Mrs. Deacon Ranney seldom noticed me further than to regard me with a look that seemed to stigmatize me as an incipient vessel of wrath that was not to be approved of, and I never liked Mrs. Deacon Ranney after I heard her reminding grandma one day that Solomon had truly said, 'spare the rod and spoil the child.' I still think ill of Mrs. Deacon Ranney for having sought to corrupt dear old grandma's gentle nature with any such incendiary suggestions. The meeting-house was cold and draughty, and the seats, with their straight backs, were oh, so hard. Grandma's pew was near the pulpit. I remember now how ashamed I used to be to carry her footstove all the way up that long aisle for her—I was such a foolish little boy then—and now, ah me, how ready and glad and proud I should be to do that service for dear old grandma!
"When grandma went to meeting she carried a lovely big black velvet bag; it had a bouquet wrought in beads of subdued color upon it, and it hung by two sombre silk puckering ribbons over grandma's arm. In the bag grandma carried a supply of crackers and peppermint lozenges, and upon these she would nibble in meeting whenever she felt that feeling of goneness in the pit of her stomach, which I was told old ladies sometimes suffer with. It was proper enough, I was assured, for old ladies to nibble at crackers and peppermint lozenges in meeting, but that such a proceeding would be very wicked for a little boy."
From which it might appear that the atmosphere of Newfane, under the grave and serious deportment of his grandmother, must have been a change from the freedom Eugene and his brother enjoyed under the fond rule of Miss French at Amherst. But when I was in Newfane in 1899 I was informed by a dear old lady in bombazine, who remembered their visits distinctly, that "Eugene and Roswell were wild boys. Not bad, but just tew full of old Nick for anything."
It was in Amherst, however, and not in Newfane, from Cousin Mary, and not from his dear Grandmother Esther, that Eugene got the New England "bent" in his Missouri mind. It is hard to separate the fact from the fancy in his story of "My Grandmother." His youth from 1856 to 1865 was lived in Amherst. His only visit to the Field homestead in Newfane was when he was nine years old. And of this he has written, "we stayed there seven months and the old lady got all the grandsons she wanted. She did not invite us to repeat the visit." He also confessed that all his love for nature dated from that visit. As a boy he would never have been permitted to indulge the fondness for animal pets under "the dark penetrating eyes" of his grandmother, that was tolerated and became a life-habit by the "gracious love" of Mary Field French. Of this fondness for pets, Roswell has written that it amounted to a passion. "But unlike other boys he seemed to carry his pets into a higher sphere and to give them personality. For each pet, whether dog, cat, bird, goat, or squirrel—he had the family distrust of a horse—he not only had a name, but it was his delight to fancy that each possessed a peculiar dialect of human speech, and each he addressed in the humorous manner conceived. When in childhood he was conducting a poultry annex to the homestead, each chicken was properly instructed to respond to a peculiar call, and Finniken, Minniken, Winniken, Dump, Poog, Boog seemed to recognize immediately the queer intonations of their master with an intelligence that is not usually accorded to chickens."
I cannot forbear to introduce here a characteristic bit of evidence from Eugene Field's own pen of the survival of the passion for pets to which his brother testifies:
"It is only under stress," said he in his allotted column in the Chicago Record of January 9th, 1892, "nay, under distress, that the mysterious veil of the editorial-room may properly be thrown aside and the secret thereof disclosed. It is under a certain grievous distress that we make this statement now:
"For a number of months the silent partner in the construction of this sporadic column of 'Sharps and Flats' has been a little fox terrier given to the writer hereof by his friend, Mr. Will J. Davis. We named our little companion Jessie, and our attachment to her was wholly reciprocated by Jessie herself, although (and we make this confession very shamefacedly) our enthusiasm for Jessie was by no means shared by the prudent housewife in charge of the writer's domestic affairs. Jessie contributed to and participated in our work in this wise: She would sit and admiringly watch the writer at his work, wagging her abridged tail cordially whenever he bestowed a casual glance upon her, threatening violence to every intruder, warning her master of the approach of every garrulous visitor, and oftentimes, when she felt lonely, insisted on climbing up into her master's lap and slumbering there while he wrote and wrote away. We have tried our poems on Jessie, and she always liked them; leastwise she always wagged her tail approvingly and smiled her flatteries as only a very intelligent little dog can. Some folk think that our poetry drove Jessie away from home, but we know better; Jessie herself would deny that malicious imputation were she here now and could she speak.
"To this little companion we became strongly, perhaps foolishly, attached. She walked with us by day, hunting rats and playing famously every variety of intelligent antics. Whither we went she went, and at night she shared our couch with us. Though only nine months old Jessie stole into this life of ours so very far that years seemed hardly to compass the period and honesty of our friendship.
"Well, last Tuesday night Jessie disappeared—vanished as mysteriously as if the earth had opened up and swallowed her. She had been playing with a discreet dog friend in Fullerton Avenue, and that was the last seen of her! Where can she have gone? It is very lonesome without Jessie. Moreover there are poems to be read for her approval before they can be printed; the great cause of literature waits upon Jessie. She must be found and restored to her proper sphere.
"Jessie perhaps was not beautiful, yet she was fair to her master's eyes. She was white with yellow ears and a brownish blaze over her left eye and warty cheek. She weighed perhaps twenty pounds (for Jessie never had dyspepsia), and one mark you surely could tell her by was the absence of a nail from her left forepaw, the honorable penalty of an encounter with an enraged setting hen in our barn last month.
"Jessie's master is not rich, for the poetry that fox terriers approve is not remunerative; but that master has accumulated (by means of industrious application to his work and his friends) the sum of $20, which he will cheerfully pay to the man, woman, or child who will bring Jessie back again. For he is a weak human creature, is Jessie's master, in his loneliness, without his faithful, admiring little dumb friend."
Two days later Field printed the following letter and his answer thereto, both written by the same hand in his column:
CHICAGO, January 10th.
To the Editor: I am very sorry for the gentleman who writes your Sharps and Flats, for I know what it is to lose a little dog. I had one once and some boy I guess took it off and never brought it back again. I have got a maltese cat and four beautiful kittens, and should like to send the gentleman one of the kittens if he wants one. Maybe he would get to like the kitten as much as he did the little dog. Respectfully, your little friend,
"Many thanks to our charming little correspondent; she has a gentle heart, we know. What havoc one of those mischievous creatures would make! In the first place it would accomplish the destruction of these little canaries of ours which now flit about this lovely disordered room, perching confidently upon folios and bric-a-brac and hopping blithely over the manuscripts and papers on the table. In the basement against the furnace, three beautiful fleecy little chickens have just hatched out. How long do you suppose it would be before that wicked little kitten discovered and compassed the demolition of those innocent baby fowls? Then again there are rabbits in the stable and very tame pigeons and the tiniest of bantams. It would be very dreadful to introduce a truculent kitten (and all felines are naturally truculent) into such society. And our blood fairly congeals when we think that perhaps (oh, fearful possibility) that kitten might nose out and wantonly destroy the too lovely butterflies stored away in yonder closet, which we have appropriately named the cage of gloom.
"Miss Edith must keep her kitten and may she have the pleasure of its pretty antics. However, she must bear this in mind, that sooner or later our pets come to grief.
"Very, very many years ago, we read and cried over a little book written by Grace Greenwood and entitled 'The History of My Pets.' Even as a child we wondered why it was that evil invariably befell the pets of youth.
"We all know that most little folks are tender-hearted, yet there are some who seem indifferent to pets, to have little sympathy with the pathos of dumb animals. And we have so often wondered whether after all these latter did not get more of pleasure or should we say less of pain out of life than the others. The tender heart seldom hardens; in maturer years its comprehensions and sympathies broaden, and this of course involves pain. Are the delights of sympathy a fair offset to the pains thereof?"
The boy at Amherst was the father of the man at forty-two. It was to the prototype of "The Bench-Legged Fyce," known in Miss French's household as "Dooley," that the boy Eugene attributed his first verse, a parody on the well-known lines, "Oh, had I the wings of a dove!" Dooley's song ran:
Oh, had I wings like a dove I would fly Away from this world of fleas; I'd fly all round Miss Emerson's yard And light on Miss Emerson's trees.
It was rank disloyalty to the memory of "Dooley" to rename the bench-legged fyce "Sooner" and locate the scene of his "chronic repose" in St. Jo rather than under the flea-proof tree of Mrs. Emerson in Amherst. But who regrets the poetic license as he reads:
We all hev our choice, an' you like the rest, Allow that dorg which you've got is the best; I wouldn't give much for the boy 'at grows up With no friendship subsistin' 'tween him and a pup; When a fellow gits old—I tell you it's nice To think of his youth and his bench-legged fyce!
Although Eugene Field never forgot or forgave the terrors of the New England Sabbath, its strict observance, its bad singing, doleful prayers and interminable sermons, the impress of those all-day sessions in church and Sunday-school was never eradicated from his life and writings. Nothing else influenced his work or affected his style as much as the morals and the literature of the Bible and the sacred songs that were lined out week after week from the pulpit under which he literally and figuratively sat when a youth. "If," he has said, "I could be grateful to New England for nothing else I should bless her forevermore for pounding me with the Bible and the Spelling-Book."
There is in the possession of the family the "Notes of a Sermon by E.P. Field," said to have been written by Eugene at the age of nine, when he affected the middle initial of P in honor of Wendell Phillips. It was more probably written when he was twelve or fourteen, as he showed at nine none of the signs of precocity which such a composition indicates. The youthful Channing took for his text the fifteenth verse of the thirteenth chapter of Proverbs: "Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard." Upon this he expounded as follows:
"The life of a Christian is often compared to a race that is hard and to a battle in which a man must fight hard to win, these comparisons have prevented many from becoming Christians.